By Mike Grant Times Herald
The Washington Times-Herald
---- — Washington, North Daviess and Barr-Reeve school systems will receive a combined $115,000 from the first round of the Indiana Secured School Safety Grant Program. The awards were part of a total of $9 million in grants throughout the state announced by Indiana Governor Mike Pence.
“The safety of the students, teachers and administrators in our schools is of the utmost importance to the people of Indiana, and I count it as a privilege to distribute these resources to schools across our state,” said Governor Pence. “These grants will allow our public schools and school corporations to add resources that will help secure our schools so they can focus on educating our students.”
The state General Assembly created the program and made the funding available following the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
The money the schools receive are in the form of 50-50 matching grants that could be used to employ a school resource officer, conduct a threat assessment or purchase equipment to restrict access to the school or expedite the notification of first responders.
The North Daviess School system received a maximum $50,000 grant. The school system will use the money to upgrade security at the schools on its campus. The new equipment will include additional cameras, panic buttons and upgrading the magnetic locks at the buildings. “We’re excited,” said Superintendent Robert Bell. “We will be getting all this additional security equipment at basically half price.”
North Daviess officials believe the moves will both make their buildings more secure and improve response by police in case there ever should be an incident. “The cameras will help us keep track of who is coming in and out of schools,” said Bell. “We’re also going to link them into the sheriff’s office so that they can see if any trouble arises. The panic buttons will go straight to police so that they can respond quickly, and the magnetic door locks will let us not only control who comes in and out, but also alerts us in case someone decides to prop a door open.”
Washington Community Schools also received a maximum $50,000 grant, but is taking a totally different approach to ramp up safety. The school system is partnering with the city of Washington to put a School Resource Officer in place. The agreement calls for the school system and city to each put up one half of the matching money to secure the grant funds.
“We are very happy for both the schools and the community,” said Washington Assistant School Superintendent Paul White. “This will allow us to bring in someone who can work in a proactive way with the schools. The officer will be in all our schools and deal with issues for kids from K-through-12.”
Besides security the SRO will also work directly with students on some of the issues facing schools. “The officer will work on anti-bullying, wise choices and work with our administrators and staff on school security plans,” said White. “We are looking to get someone who is relatable to both the staff and the students.”
Washington concentrated on the officer, because it had already done some upgrades on security equipment through a rural schools grant last year. “Now, we will begin working with the city to lay out the plan to get the officer, get him trained and equipped and get him in the school,” said White.
The school system will be working with the Washington Police Department to hire a SRO. “We need to get the formalities worked out next,” said Washington Police Chief Mike Healy. “We know the police department is going to be involved. Now that we have the funding we’ll start on the second step.”
Officials say they will work quickly. “We hope to have this officer in place when we get back into school Jan. 6 (2014),” said White. “It will depend on how quickly we can get them hired and trained.”
Because Barr-Reeve is a small school system officials were not able to apply for as much money. The state did provide a $15,000 grant that the school system intends to use for equipment. “We had done a lot of security upgrades after the shooting at Sandy Hook,” said Superintendent Travis Madison. “Our hope was to get reimbursed for some of that work, but the grants didn’t work out that way.”
School officials had put in a buzzer system at the building’s doors and additional cameras. “We found when we were upgrading the entrances that a lot of doors were getting old and needed some updating to make certain they all operate properly,” said Madison. “We are also going to update the door at the elementary school with this grant to put in a computerized locking system. We are going to be putting together a smart-phone app that will alert staff and police about emergency situations and which response plans to put into operation.”
School officials say they believe the schools are already safe, but they welcome the funding to try and make them even safer. “The only way you can make schools totally secure is to build them like prisons,” said Bell. “Our community is different than say an inner-city school. We have good kids and a good community.”
“We think our schools are safe,” added White. “This could only make them safer. It will give us a better link with the city in the event we have to implement our emergency plan.”
The increased security though does come with a feeling that the schools may be alienating their patrons. “You look at every opportunity you get to make the kids and their parents to feel safe,” said Madison. “It should make them feel secure, but not like they are in a permanent lockdown. You want your community to feel welcome at their school.”
This is the first time the Secured School Safety Grants are available and the state intends to make another round of grants available next year. Officials from all three schools say they intend to seek grants in the second round of funding.